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    Educating children with disabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa: drawing lessons for Mauritius

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    Dr Elena Nikolova, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

     

    Although education is a basic human right, in many developing countries, children with disabilities are excluded from formal education at great cost to themselves and society. In a new book chapter, we investigate the barriers to inclusive education for children with disabilities in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Niger, which are three of the world’s poorest countries. Despite legislative commitments to advance education for children with disabilities, we find that children with disabilities are marginalized in educational settings, which negatively affect their empowerment, earnings, and quality of life. Our findings for these three countries have relevance for the Indian Ocean region including Mauritius.

    What is disability?

    There are four different views of disability, which are summarized in Figure 1 below. According to the charity model of disability, the disabled are victims who depend on the help of others, and therefore, should be grateful for any donations that come their way. According to the medical model of disability, persons with disabilities (including children with disabilities) are identified as ‘disabled’ because they have visible impairments or have been medically diagnosed as such by a medical practitioner. According to this model, emphasis should be put on medical and technological assistance so that those with disabilities can become ‘normal’ again. Conversely, the social model of disability moves away from the narrow medical focus on curing impairment and emphasizes removing legal barriers and including people with disabilities in all spheres of life at the family, community, and societal levels. Finally, the human rights approach builds on the social model by going beyond anti-discrimination policy and civil rights reforms, to encompass civil and political as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. Our chapter utilizes the human rights model in the analysis.

    Figure 1. Models and approaches to disability. Source: Includovate (2022)

    Findings

    Around the world, as many as half of the  65 million learners of primary and secondary school age with disabilities are out of school (data from 2015). According to the 2011 World Report on Disability, 6% of children under the age of 14 in Africa have either moderate or severe disabilities, and less than 10% of all children with disabilities in this age range, are attending school. For Ethiopia, Niger, and Burkina Faso, the estimates for the overall prevalence of persons with disabilities, and children with disabilities specifically, range widely. Similarly, there is no single, consistent source of data on educational enrolment and attainment among children with disabilities. While data availability, reliability, and comparability across the three study countries are a challenge, the available evidence points to high levels of exclusion and marginalization of children with disabilities in each country.

    To better understand barriers to inclusive education for children, we conducted 44 semi-structured Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) (14 in Ethiopia, 11 in Niger, and 15 in Burkina Faso, and four with international partner organizations headquartered in Europe that operate in the three countries). The key informants interviewed include representatives of children with disabilities, inclusive education focal persons within governments, organizations of persons with disabilities, and NGOs implementing inclusive education projects.

    Our analysis reveals that while the three countries have good legislative frameworks on educating children with disabilities and some assistance from international partners, important challenges remain. At the school level, challenges include low quality and few resources to support special schools, lack of integration of special schools with mainstream schools, and lack of trained teachers. At the community level, there is a lack of community and parental awareness of the options available to children with disabilities, low environmental infrastructure, and prejudice against people with disabilities. Lack of data prevents governments and donors from understanding the scope of the problem and from working on appropriate solutions integrating children with disabilities in education.

    In addition, the key informants identified several cross-cutting challenges to educating children with disabilities, which are as follows:

      • Family level: Negative parental attitudes towards disability, lack of awareness of education opportunities and family poverty were all challenges identified in our data.
      • School level: There are inadequate school facilities, lack of accessible infrastructure, lack of educational materials, inadequate supply of teachers and insufficient teacher training.
      • Community level: A combination of existing factors include negative societal attitudes towards disability, lack of accessible forms of transportation to/from schools, insecurity and violence, including war, terrorism, and intracommunal conflict.
      • System level: Issues identified relate to a lack of reliable data for understanding the situation, and for monitoring progress, inadequate attention to disability issues in government policy & programs, poor coordination across different government bodies involved in disability inclusion and education, and lack of government resources for education generally.

    Policy solutions

    In the chapter, we highlight several programs aimed at tackling the educational exclusion of children with disabilities which can serve as a blueprint for more large-scale interventions in the three countries and beyond. In Niger, the government is collaborating with international NGOs and bilateral donors for the introduction of an inclusive education module in the Ministry of Education’s teacher training program, through the project Promotion d’un modèle d’éducation inclusive à Maradi [Promoting an Inclusive Education Model in Maradi – PMEI]. The PMEI project, together with another project (Agir pour la pleine participation des enfants handicapés par l’éducation [Working Towards the Full Participation of Children with Disabilities through Education – APPELH]), have trained over 450 teachers and school principals on the inclusion of children with disabilities. In Ethiopia, the Atse Zereyakob primary School in Debre Birhan, Amhara region, is a resource center educating over 600 students.

    The World Bank has given $2.75 million to Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Economics and Finances for a project titled “Burkina Faso improving education for children with disabilities” to be implemented by the Ministry of Education and Literacy (MENAPLN). The project’s primary objective is to support the education of 7,000 vulnerable children with a focus on children with disabilities, including at least 50% of girls, in the five poorest regions of the country and Ouagadougou.

    However, more effort and sustainable programs are needed to really make a difference when it comes to including children with disabilities in education in the three countries. Investing into data collection – both quantitative and qualitative – in order to understand where resources are needed most is important. In addition, policies aimed to change attitudes towards children and people with disabilities – such as educational or edutainment campaigns – might also rank high on the agenda. Training teachers and raising resources at the national and international levels could also help improve education for children with disabilities in the three countries.

    Relevance for the Mauritian context

     In Mauritius, the government is a signatory of all main conventions related to education and children with disabilities, and the constitution guarantees the right of all children to education. According to the most recent census (conducted in 2022), the proportion of children with disabilities in Mauritius is 2.3% of all children under 15. The figure increased from 1.5% in the 2011 census. As of October 2021, there were 2,754 students enrolled in the 72 special education schools in Mauritius, with the majority of the students being boys (67.4%).

    Children with special needs are enrolled either in mainstream schools, special needs schools or integrated units within mainstream schools. However, important challenges include teachers’ lack of training in special education, lack of teaching aids and the lack of proper infrastructure, including teaching materials. The scope of the challenges is similar to those identified in the cases of Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Niger, and in the case of Mauritius, these can be solved with appropriate resources and training. For instance, designating some schools as resource schools (as in the Ethiopia case), involving international organizations through knowledge exchange, or establishing partnerships between special needs educators in government and private schools, could be fruitful solutions for the future.

    References

    Hang’andu, P., Mensah, E.K., Nikolova, E. & Hayward, E. (2022). Educating Children with Disabilities. In: The Palgrave Handbook of Global Social Problems. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-68127-2_238-1.

    Includovate (2022). Study on the elements and economic costs of disability for children with disabilities and persons with physical disabilities in South Africa, Part 2.  Report prepared for UNDP South Africa, March 2022

    Main Photo by freepik on Freepik.

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Perception of Climate Change Adaptation in Rodrigues Island

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    Marie Stephania Perrine, MPhil candidate at the Islands and Small States (ISS) at the University of Malta and UNFCCC Capacity Fellow at the UN Secretariat for Climate Change in Bonn, Germany.

     

    Unlike developed and bigger developing countries, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are more vulnerable to climate change. Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. SIDS’ vulnerability is a function of three elements: exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Moreover, this vulnerability is context-specific and should be understood in terms of SIDS’ specific history, culture and social contexts.

    Climate change adaptation refers to processes or actions taken by communities or natural systems to limit or reduce the adverse effects of climate change. SIDS face more challenges to implement adaptation strategies due to their exposure and sensitivity to climate-related risks and the economic burden associated with adaptation. Factors like knowledge, socio-cultural history, beliefs, governance and institutional mechanisms can also facilitate or inhibit adaptation strategies.

    Table 1: Description of the different vulnerabilities of SIDS [1]

    Source: Adapted from Wong (2011)

    Figure 1: Definition of the three components of vulnerability [2]

    Source: IPCC (2014)

    Understanding how people contextually perceive climate phenomena is important as it influences how they perceive both the seriousness and the likelihood of extreme climate events. Perception can further inform adaptation measures policies and behaviour change.

    Research Context

    Rodrigues is a semi-autonomous outer island of the Republic of Mauritius with a population of 44, 427 inhabitants as at year 2021. Rodrigues gained regional autonomy in 2002 and has a local government, the Rodrigues Regional Assembly (RRA), which is democratically elected every five years.

    In the 1960s, Rodrigues had a successful economy with a blooming agriculture sector which was mainly organised on a household basis and regularly exporting much of its products (fish, onions, lime, sheep and poultry) to mainland Mauritius. However, all these declined in the 1970s due to a severe drought. Rodrigues has since, failed to spring back to its former glorious days despite countless governmental initiatives.

    Pressure from human activities and natural factors have highly modified the island’s ecosystems. Rodrigues is considered as the most degraded of the Mascarene Islands with the extinction and decline of much of its endemic fauna and flora, and the proliferation of invasive alien plant species like Acacia nilotica. Intensive in-lagoon fishing has exerted throbbing pressure over decades and has resulted in drastic fish stock decline and degradation of marine ecosystem.  Moreover, agricultural land use has decreased considerably due to market prices, low production yields, lack of water and exogenous factors such as weather.

    Rodrigues has warmed up by 0.5 – 1.0 °C according to Meteorological Services. Annual analysis shows significant variation in annual rainfall. Based on projections from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), decreasing rainfall and increasing frequency of extreme events are expected.

    Study Overview

    Given the development challenges and the threats of climate change, the research used a case study approach to understand perceptions of climate change and adaptation of the local community. The research approach mainly focused on the following objectives:

    1. To explore perceptions of local individuals on climate change.
    2. To understand concerns about the Impacts of climate change on Rodrigues.
    3. To investigate adaptation measures deployed at local level to mitigate observed climate related risks.

    Data was collected through an open-ended survey questionnaire from 110 respondents [3] through online and face-to-face modes. To ensure a fair representation of respondents from different sectors and socio-economic background, Rodriguan respondents were randomly selected at convenience. Information was collected on:

    • respondent’s demographics;
    • concerns about issues faced by Rodrigues now and, in the future;
    • knowledge about causes of climate change;
    • perceptions of changes in the climate, impacts on livelihoods, adaptation strategies
    • intentions and willingness to adopt environment-friendly behavior/adaptation practices

    Table 2: Age and Education Crosstabulation of Survey Respondents

    Source: Author

    Using snowballing, an in-depth interview was conducted with 12 informants.  The first two respondents provided a list of potential contacts. This non-probability sampling method helped in finding key informants from NGOs, government, fishermen, agricultural and civil society representatives who were relevant to the research. Some of the questions related to:

    • Whether climate variability was accentuating in Rodrigues;
    • How climate variability was impacting livelihoods in Rodrigues;
    • Whether any adaptation initiatives were being implemented;
    • Whether the population was aware of the need for climate change adaptation;
    • Whether the government realised that climate change has a role to play in the island’s development.

    Climate Change: uneven awareness and response capabilities

    The survey found that most Rodriguans (80%) agree that the climate has changed. Rodriguans’ perceptions are mainly based on their personal interpretations of climatic events. People have observed an increase in climatic events such as droughts, heatwaves, flooding and cyclones. For them, these events have some direct effects on their lives in terms of increase in food prices, health and water availability.

    Most respondents (45%) believe that climate change is mainly caused by anthropogenic pressures from human activities while some (36%) were aware of the contributory part of natural processes.

    Generational differences in response to climate events exist. For instance, during the unexpected, prolonged rain period from January to April 2018, planters aged 45 years old and above, dealt better with the ‘unusual’ situation than the younger ones because their elders once told them about the huge floods before the 1970s or because themselves have once experienced such climatic experiences. Older planters also knew they should build canals in their plantations as a preventive measure while the younger planters were distraught and overwhelmed by the weekly floodings. This not only shows that response capabilities differ across generations, but it further highlights the lack of local knowledge transmission to plan and manage climate risks.

    Based on results, in Rodrigues, perception comprises of interrelated socio-psychological determinants such as cognitive, experiential and socio-cultural factors which shape the dimension of perceived risk. Although climate change is perceived as a serious problem globally, in Rodrigues there exists differentiated constructs that shape the level of climate-related beliefs, knowledge, urgency, risk perceptions and subsequently willingness to adapt (see Table 2). Societal evolution and the psychological dimension of perception contribute to how Rodriguans respond to climate change.

    Table 3: The Socio-psychological determinants of perception in Rodrigues

    Concerns about climate change

    Concerns about climate change impacts were further explored in the interviews with key informants. A strong co-dependency between Rodriguans and their ecosystem for their livelihoods – marine and terrestrial ecosystems – was found. Strong demand and dependence on ecosystem services are however, adversely impacted by current ecosystems degradation.  The drivers causing pressure on ecosystems are economic, cultural, sociopolitical and technological.

    Current adaptation measures, opportunities and weaknesses

    A few adaptation measures are initiated by the local government, sometimes in cooperation with local NGOs. Banning plastic bags, octopus fishing closures, community forest and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were recurrently mentioned. 6 out of 12 (key interviewees) believed that these measures have some success and positive impact. The remaining believed they are limited as illegal fishing still prevail and individual pro-environment behaviors are minimal.

    Agriculture in Rodrigues faces many challenges. Most farmers still practise traditional agriculture. Interviewed farmers complained about their inability to adapt to changes. Their level of education (they did not complete primary education) play a great role in their inability to understand and use modern technologies. Few of them consider crop diversification and changing crop planting months as adaptive measures. The major challenges identified were water stress, saline intrusion, lack of technical knowledge, access to insurance (credit facilities), expensive farm inputs in terms of seeds and bio fertilizers, lack of agricultural extension services and education.

    Adaptation measures are hampered by the strong self-consciousness of political divide. This situation relates to social identity whereby people adopt environmental attitudes and behaviors based on the ideology of the political party which they support. This research showed that adaptation initiatives (octopus fishing closures, marine reserves, banning plastic bags) met with some degree of acceptance or rejection based on the Rodriguans’ allegiance to the enacting political party. Interviewees explained that people believed these initiatives were an imposition on how they use their natural resources. By adopting such behaviors, Rodriguans think that members from similar political party are more likeable, knowledgeable and trustworthy than outgroup members.

    Most adaptation projects have loopholes resulting from lack of community involvement, monitoring, entitlement failure, resource dependency, obsolete infrastructure and development issues related to prevailing economic systems, human resource and planning. These limitations enhance the island’s social vulnerability and hamper the wellbeing of its inhabitants as some adaptive measures, such as water desalinization, have resulted in maladaptation. There is a need for capacity-building at institutional, individual including systemic level and research to inform adaptation strategies in such cases.

    Recommendations

    This research provides a snapshot of the different challenges that requires attention given the significant impact of climate change in Rodrigues. Some key recommendations to inform and improve current and future adaptation strategies, policies and sustainability agenda are as follows:

    • Mainstream climate change in the island’s development plans and sectoral programmes.
    • Conduct research to identify climate change adaptation specific of Rodrigues’ agricultural and fishing sectors.
    • Support environmental awareness initiatives through education and effective climate communication.
    • Conduct vulnerability assessments to understand Rodrigues’ household social and physical vulnerability and preparedness to climate-related events.

     

     

    [1] Wong. P.P. (2011). Small island developing states. WIREs Clim Change 2011 2 1–6 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.84 https://wires.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wcc.84

    [2] IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1132 pp

    [3] The distribution of profession is representative of the job sectors available on the island. The highest employing sectors are the public administration (Rodrigues Regional Assembly) and education (Statistics Mauritius, 2016). The respondents confirmed this tendency as 27% of them were from the Public Sector (nurse, clerks, police officers amongst others) and 25% from the Education Sector (primarily secondary educators). Respondents from the private sector (Managers, journalist, sales representatives and entrepreneurs) was 21% and is equal to those from the section marked ‘others’. The 21 % response rate from this section is quite significant as it comes from respondents whom we don’t usually classify as being ‘employed’ such as housewives, fishermen, planters and students. Respondents who classify themselves as unemployed account for 7%.

    Main photo Copyright © by Luiciano Fils Roussety.

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    AI is reshaping the workplace – but what does it mean for the health and well-being of workers?

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    Arif Jetha, Associate Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

     

    The business landscape has undergone a significant shift over the past few years because of artificial intelligence (AI). This technological advancement has innovated business practices and is changing the way we work.

    Businesses are increasingly turning to AI to solve problems and perform tasks that have traditionally required human intelligence. Across different industries and occupations, AI is being used to detect patterns, make predictions and even create content.

    However, the rapid rate of AI adoption is putting workplaces at risk of overlooking its potentially adverse impacts, particularly those that could impact the health and well-being of workers.

    AI in the workplace

    The type of AI currently being used in workplaces has a narrowly defined role. It primarily augments the work being performed by humans, as seen by customer service chatbots, robots working alongside factory workers or cancer diagnostic platforms.

    The recent strike of the Writers Guild of America offers an example of workers in a field once previously thought to be shielded from automation fighting to protect their jobs from the use of generative AI to write scripts and produce creative content in Hollywood.

    But future types of AI might be very different than the ones we are seeing now. In the future, AI that matches, or even surpasses, human intelligence might be introduced into workplaces. These stronger, more capable forms of AI will undoubtedly change the role of human workers.

    Some economists project that up to 300 million full-time jobs could have some portion of their tasks performed by AI. Others predict that the quickly growing advancement and use of AI could also create a number of new jobs that require workers to work alongside machines.

    Worker health and well-being

    Throughout history, periods of technological transformation have introduced new tools to workplaces and altered working conditions in ways that have impacted worker health in both positive and negative ways.

    The increasing availability of smartphone technology, for example, has given rise to the digital gig economy characterized by temporary and freelance work, or short-term contracts. While this shift presents novel work opportunities, it also contributes to widespread labour market precarity that has negatively impacted the well-being of workers.

    Our understanding of how AI will impact working conditions and worker health, however, is not yet clear. There are several ways in which current (and future) forms of AI could bring advantages and disadvantages to workers.

    On one hand, AI could be used to perform strenuous tasks that pose the greatest risk to workers’ health. It could also identify occupational hazards and employees’ physical and mental well-being in real-time to quickly deliver health and safety solutions.

    At the same time, AI being more applicable to some industries or occupations could result in inequities within the labour market. Currently, the occupations where AI is least useful are those that involve unpredictable and highly physical job tasks (e.g., nursing aides, janitors, food service workers) or those that have leadership responsibilities (e.g., chief executive officers).

    Some predict AI has the potential to contribute to a hollowing out of the labour market, with widening income gaps and disparate effects on worker health.

    The adoption of AI within the workplaces could also increase the intensity and stressfulness of work or create pressure among humans to keep up with machines. And in cases of biased design, AI could reinforce discriminatory workplace practices faced by workers from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Prioritizing health research on AI

    According to a recent report led by the non-profit Institute for Work & Health and informed by a multidisciplinary team (including me), research about the health impacts of AI should take several critical directions.

    There is a need for research to better understand how increasingly autonomous and advanced versions of AI will impact working conditions and worker health. Equally vital is the creation of a road map for AI design that optimizes health.

    The report also underscores the importance of research that can be put into practice. Research needs to meaningfully inform discussions about the health and safety implications of AI adoption, as well as the regulations needed to safeguard human health.

    Workers should also be able to access evidence to better understand the potential impacts of the technology — both harmful and helpful — on their jobs and well-being, and to gain practical insights on how to safely work alongside AI.

    AI will bring rapid and large-scale changes to the working world. Without evidence of the health-related challenges and opportunities AI may present, it will be difficult for decision-makers to protect and promote worker health and safety.

    There is a critical need for research that can be used to understand, anticipate and address AI’s potential risks and opportunities for the human workforce, and to ensure that worker health and well-being is at the forefront of AI adoption.The Conversation

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Main photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Africa is being courted by China, Russia and the US. Why the continent shouldn’t pick sides

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    Bhaso Ndzendze, Associate Professor (International Relations), University of Johannesburg

     

    Some three decades since the end of the Cold War, the world order is undergoing a structural transformation. At the heart of it is the challenge posed to the hegemony of the US. This is primarily being led by Russia and China which are discontented with Washington’s excesses across the global stage. The most recent example of this rebellion was the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Fiona Hill, a British-American foreign affairs specialist, observed that the war was a “proxy for a rebellion by Russia and the ‘Rest’ against the United States”.

    The African continent is an obvious contender for major power courting as this realignment takes place. This is for at least four reasons.

    Firstly, it is the largest regional bloc in the United Nations, representing some 28% of all the votes in the General Assembly. Secondly, it possesses some crucial raw minerals that are found only in the continent. Thirdly, it possesses some important sea trade routes, particularly in east Africa. Finally, the continent is home to the fastest-growing youth demographic and will account for about 42% of the world’s youth by 2030.

    I am a scholar of geopolitics and have conducted research on the continent’s trade ties to the major powers. My findings have led me to the conclusion that Africa can gain more by being neutral than by picking sides.

    The drivers

    Africa’s size in the UN General Assembly can’t be overstated. The continent sometimes struggles to respond in a coordinated way. Nevertheless, it has, in the past, been able to vote in sync in a way that has proved influential. The most notable example of this was the 1971 vote for the resolution that brought mainland China into the UN and replaced Taiwan. In total, there were 76 votes in favour, of which 27 came from African member states.

    In today’s UN, having this large grouping on one’s side helps countries the most when it comes to passing – or defeating – resolutions. With the UN Security Council in gridlock because the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) have veto power, there has been a shift towards the UN General Assembly, which works on one-member-one-vote. General Assembly votes are mainly symbolic. But they are a useful indicator of where the international community stands and are a powerful moral weapon for any major power.

    Africa’s other major attraction is, of course, its resource wealth. This has become even more pronounced and taken on extraordinary importance in the push towards alternative sources of energy, both renewable and non-renewable. And in the production of products driven by the rise in technological innovation, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo’s cobalt, which is needed to make device screens among other things. The DRC is the world’s leading producer of this crucial mineral.

    At the same time the oil reserves of Algeria, Angola and Nigeria will become increasingly important as countries look to diversify away from Russia for natural gas, and from fossil fuels more broadly.

    Then there are the trade routes. The Red Sea route, which straddles northeast Africa and links it to the Indian Ocean, constitutes 10% of annual global trade.

    The Red Sea route passes countries such as Eritrea and Somalia. Both have been actively courted by Russia.

    For its part, China has earmarked the route through its Maritime Silk Road initiative. Its aim is to boost port infrastructure among countries with Indian Ocean coastlines.

    Lastly, Africa is home to the fastest-growing youth population. This will be important in the search for future markets, particularly in sectors such as technology and education.

    The US and Europe are also keen to tap this human capacity as their own populations age above the global average. Many are looking to Africa as a source of inward migratory flows.

    Africa’s ties with the major powers

    In 2022, the continent as a whole exported US$43.1 billion worth of goods to the US and imported goods worth US$30.6 billion.

    By comparison, China exported US$164.1 billion to Africa and imported US$117.5 billion worth of African goods, in the same year. With African exports totalling US$661.4 billion, the US accounts for 6.5% and China 17.7%.

    China, the notable growth story of the past half-century, has thus become the African continent’s single biggest trading partner, though the combined power of the European Union’s trading bloc of 27 countries still leads.

    China’s ties with the continent are the result of decades of diplomatic and commercial efforts to woo the continent through the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation. Part of this has been driven by its desire to counter the US. The other driving force has been to sustain its economy, given Africa’s untapped potential.

    Russia has pursued a different strategy. Given that its trade with the continent is at a minimum – exports and imports were around US$18 billion in 2021 – it has rather sought to become a security partner, drawing on sentimentalised Soviet history.

    Washington’s principal instrument for growing trade, and encouraging good behaviour, in Africa is the African Growth and Opportunity Act, set to expire in 2025. The framework is a lever. But, as the data show, trade is in evident decline.

    The general picture can obscure some nuances. Some African states are more deeply intertwined with the US than others. For example, Djibouti has an American military base (along with other states, though not Russia at this point). And Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are also among the top recipients of US direct investment.

    On the other hand, Eritrea, which was the only African state to brazenly vote against the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, seems to have no aspirations to be in America’s good graces. This notorious outlier aside, the world is deeply intertwined, with high interdependence even among the competing major powers.

    The US and China, despite their trade war, have struggled to decouple from one another, with their bilateral trade reaching new heights as recently as last year.

    In light of the comparatively diminished US-Africa trade, the US may be looking to make use of third parties. It could potentially influence the EU to influence Africa. The Huawei issue demonstrates this. The US has successfully pressured quite a few of its allies to halt doing business with the Chinese technology giant. According to UNCTAD data, France (US$60 billion) and the UK (US$65 billion) are the principal holders of African assets.

    As these and other European states seek to “de-risk” from China, there may be third-party consequences for Africa. This might include undue pressure on the continent to behave in certain ways towards China and towards Russia.

    Picking sides isn’t the best option

    Recent research, including my own on US-China trade “competition” over Africa, shows that the prevailing notion that smaller countries need to “pick sides” in polarised global contexts is false. Africa is best served when it conducts trade with as many partners as possible.

    Indeed, as shown, the major contenders are themselves conducting record-breaking trade with one another.

    All the while, Europe continues to conduct trade with Russia following the war against Ukraine (indeed, it is growing in some respects).

    The continent can, therefore, afford to be neutral. What it cannot afford to do is pick sides and preclude any partnerships. In the oncoming multipolar order, there are no self-evident, African-specific needs to pick sides. All options can be on the table. The Conversation

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Main Photo by Lara Jameson on Pexels.

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Improving how the IMF does business could help billions of people worldwide — by giving governments money to spend on public goods and increasing accountability. Podcast

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    Mend MariwanyProducer, The Conversation Weekly, The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation

    Nehal El-HadiScience + Technology Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation

     

    In countries across the Global South, the launch of IMF programs often sparks considerable concern. This is because of the IMF’s reputation: during the 1980s, many nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America turned to the IMF seeking loans to mitigate economic challenges. These loans were accompanied by stringent conditions, and countries faced pressure to reduce public subsidies and social spending, downsize the public sector workforce, and increase taxes.

    Originally founded after the second world war, the IMF aimed to provide a framework for countries to cooperate in managing their exchange rates and to facilitate international trade. Since then, it has evolved to provide financial assistance and support to countries facing economic crises and emergencies worldwide. Member countries contribute a certain amount of money to the IMF based on their economic size, and in turn, they are able to access loans as a means of aid.

    During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the IMF extended loans to over 80 countries. Presently, more than 90 countries remain indebted to the IMF, with such loans being accompanied by policy conditions.

    In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, we speak with two researchers about the impact of IMF loans on recipient countries and why countries continue to rely on IMF loans. We also discuss potential alternatives to this system.

    Ongoing impact of colonialism

    Danny Bradlow, a Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations and Senior Fellow at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, highlights the harmful effects of IMF-imposed austerity measures.

    The ongoing impact of colonialism means many countries in the Global South “were in a very dire situation to begin with,” Bradlow explains. “The IMF said if you follow our policy prescriptions, things will turn around and you’ll do much better.”

    The measures imposed by the IMF limited access to healthcare and education for poorer people. Throughout the 1980s, the IMF pressured country after country — in what’s often known as Structural Adjustment Programs — with lasting damage on economies and populations.

    The policy measures dictated by the IMF also had detrimental environmental consequences. To encourage economic growth, many countries were pressured to shift “from producing food to producing agricultural products that you could sell on the global markets,” Bradlow says. “Often that meant you were using more environmentally damaging fertilizers, or you were doing extractive mining projects that were environmentally damaging. In some cases it was logging, so countries would tear down forests.”

    Prolonged debt and austerity

    Attiya Waris is Associate Professor of Fiscal Law and Policy at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and an expert on foreign debt and international financial obligations and their implications for human rights.

    As part of her work, Waris sheds light on the experiences of Argentina and Pakistan. Both countries have received multiple loans since the 1950s to address economic challenges such as inflation, currency devaluation, and external debt crises. Argentina currently holds the highest outstanding debt of US$46 billion, while Pakistan ranks fifth with US$7.4 billion.

    “Pakistan is one of 14 countries across the world that has a loan with the IMF that has a surcharge on it. A surcharge means that if you are paying a 1% interest rate and you default on your payments, then you’ll be paying 3%. So you’re being penalized for being unable to pay,” Waris explains. This in turn increases the likelihood of prolonged debt and austerity.

    But for Waris, one of the biggest problems is that the contracts around IMF loans are extremely opaque, meaning it’s difficult to hold the institution to account or even evaluate what impact it has beyond the austerity measures.

    “This is problematic because there can be no societal oversight over what a group of human beings in their country are deciding to take on, on their behalf,” she says. “Representative, democratic or otherwise, people need to know what their governments are doing on their behalf.”

    For Bradlow, there are signs for positive change. A recent research paper shows that the IMF acknowledges some of the devastating impacts it has had on countries. In the paper, it identifies areas of enhanced focus, including climate change, gender, inequality, and social protection. However, while the IMF has adapted its focus and policies to address some of the negative consequences, it remains uncertain how it will achieve these goals.

    The Conversation has reached out to the International Monetary Fund for comment regarding the issues covered in this episode and is awaiting response.

    Listen to the full episode of The Conversation Weekly to learn more about the impact of IMF loans on recipient nations, the potential benefits of allocating funds for public services in the Global South, and the importance of implementing accountability mechanisms within the IMF.

    This episode was written and produced by Mend Mariwany, who is also the executive producer of The Conversation Weekly. Eloise Stevens does our sound design, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

    You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also subscribe to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

    Listen to “The Conversation Weekly” via any of the apps listed above, download it directly via our RSS feed or find out how else to listen here.The Conversation

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Main photo by Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank on Flickr.    

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Food crisis in Africa: the high cost of imported fertilisers is adding to the problem

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    Simon Roberts, Professor of Economics and Lead Researcher, Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development, University of Johannesburg

    Ntombifuthi Tshabalala, Economist at Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development, University of Johannesburg

     

    Global fertiliser suppliers have made incredibly high profits in 2022/23 on the back of price spikes attributed to the Russia-Ukraine war. The profits of the world’s top nine producers trebled in 2022 from two years previously.

    The margins and impacts have been even greater on fertiliser supplies to African farmers. Moreover, the super-high profit margins are being sustained in 2023 in many African countries even while international prices have come down. The harvest season has recently come to an end in most countries in southern Africa with farmer margins and production being squeezed by high input costs.

    The wide gaps between fertiliser prices in the region and international fertiliser prices point to major issues within the supply chain with excess margins of some 30%-80% being earned on sales to many African countries.

    South Africa has the benefit of robust competition enforcement meaning prices in this country have come down substantially. This only serves to highlight the disadvantage being faced by farmers in other countries such as Malawi and Zambia.

    High fertiliser prices undermine production, contribute to high food prices, and exacerbate food insecurity.

    Our work on fertiliser and agri-food markets in the African Market Observatory points to major problems with how international and regional markets work, including the market power of large international suppliers. High prices for fertiliser inputs are squeezing African farmers who are cutting back on fertiliser use meaning low yields and supply, and high food prices.

    International action is therefore urgently required on fertiliser prices to improve food security in Africa.

    Impact

    African countries are dependent on imported fertiliser and usage is relatively low. For example, Kenya and Zambia use around 70kg/ha, compared with 365kg/ha in Brazil.

    Production

    The harvest season has recently come to an end in most countries in southern Africa. There’s evidence that farmer margins and production are being squeezed by high input costs. High costs and low application are a factor in maize yields in Zambia being less than half of those in South Africa and a third of Argentina (according to the FAO).

    In 2022, Kenya imported almost 30% less fertiliser and production fell. Maize output in 2022/23 was 18% lower than the average for the previous five year, with yields and area planted both being lower, compounding the effect of poor rains. This has meant a substantial deficit relative to local demand and very high prices.

    Continued high fertiliser prices will constrain production, even while there is a great need to expand agriculture output to meet regional demand.

    For example, Zambia has abundant arable land and water for agriculture to increase production. Of the country’s 42 million hectares of arable land, only 15% (or around 6 million) is under cultivation, including for pasture, with only 1.5 million of this cultivated for crop production. Zambia has around 40% of the water resources available for agriculture in the entire SADC region.

    If farmers earned better returns, with cheaper input costs, then production could be a multiple of the current levels.

    Food insecurity: Approximately 73 million people in the East and Southern Africa region are experiencing acute food insecurity. People in low- and middle-income countries bear the harshest burden – both in terms of the importance of small-holder farmers and in the vulnerability of low-income urban households to high food prices.

    Most countries on the continent rely on food imports. Countries such as Kenya which have been affected by drought are struggling to source imports which has worsened food security in the country. This has been exacerbated by export restrictions on maize imposed by Zambia and Tanzania, which have suppressed prices to farmers in those countries, even while input costs, notably fertilizer, have increased.

    Uneven playing field

    International fertilizer prices more than doubled in two months – from September to November 2021. The peak continued into early 2022, reaching an average price of US$915/t for the benchmark urea fertilizer between March and April 2022. This compares with around US$226 in the previous five years. This was driven by the world’s largest fertilizer companies taking advantage of the rise in the price of natural gas, an important input for nitrogen-based fertilizer, as well as supply disruptions associated with the Russia-Ukraine war. The fertilizer companies exploited the shocks and raised prices by more than the increase in costs.

    By March 2023, the international price of urea had fallen back to close to $300/t. With additional costs to import to coastal countries which should be no more than $150/t and to inland regions no more than $250/t including a trader margin, South Africa’s inland prices now reflect fair prices but in other African countries super profits are continuing.

    What needs to be done

    To ease the adverse impacts of high fertilizer prices, governments in the region have tried to implement fertilizer subsidy programmes. For example, prices in Tanzania with the government subsidy have been reduced from around $1100/t to US$600-700/t.

    But the subsidies have huge costs for governments which many African countries have not been able to incur, while the programmes have generally not been working well. In Malawi, for example, a large portion of the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) targeted beneficiaries did not receive fertilizer under the 2022/2023 programme.

    International action is therefore urgently required on fertilizer prices to improve food security in Africa. First, competition authorities in Africa should investigate signs of anti-competitive conduct. Second, investments are required in logistics, storage and advice on optimal usage. Third, a fertilizer market observatory as the EU is currently setting-up would provide ongoing data about fertiliser markets, factors affecting them, and exchange experiences and good practices for optimal usage.The Conversation

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Main photo by Anthony Trivet on Pexels

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Africa’s groundbreaking women’s rights treaty turns 20 – the hits and misses of the Maputo protocol

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    Anthony Idowu Ajayi, Associate research scientist, African Population and Health Research Center

     

    2023 marks two decades since the adoption of the Maputo Protocol. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) is arguably the most progressive legally binding instrument on women’s and human rights instruments globally. A total of 44 African countries have signed and ratified it. The Maputo Protocol provides for extensive and progressive women’s rights. These include the right to health and reproduction, inheritance, economic and social welfare, education and training, access to justice and equal protection before the law, and elimination of harmful practices. Reproductive health researcher, Anthony Ajayi, unpacks the significance of the document in women’s lives over the years.

     

    What does it mean for sexual and reproductive rights?

    Articles 2 and 14 made specific provisions to protect the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls.

    Article 2 mandates member countries to enact and implement laws and other measures to curb all forms of discrimination, especially harmful practices that endanger health and general well-being.

    Advocacy efforts to end child marriage and female genital cutting are anchored on this specific provision. Such efforts have resulted in 43 African countries now having laws that put the minimum age of marriage at 18 years old or above for both girls and boys. While some of these countries have parental consent exceptions and parallel customary marriage laws, the past ten years have seen more countries remove these exceptions. Also, 22 out of 29 African countries practising female genital cutting now have national laws in place banning the practice.

    Article 14 mandates member countries to ensure the right to health of women, including sexual and reproductive health. This includes the right to control fertility, decide whether to have children, the number of children and the spacing of children, and choose any method of contraception.

    Has it been effective?

    Since the inception of the Maputo Protocol, most African countries have removed user fees for maternal health services in government-owned health facilities. This has increased access to quality maternal healthcare services for marginalised women and girls. As a result, maternal deaths have declined markedly.

    More countries have broadened their laws to allow access to safe abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, life-threatening fetal anomalies, and when a pregnancy endangers the woman’s mental and physical health or her life. Between 2000 and 2021, 22 African countries expanded their legal grounds for abortion. Six – Cape Verde, South Africa, Tunisia, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe (up to 10 weeks of gestation in Angola) – permit abortion at the woman’s request during the first trimester of pregnancy. More countries have developed and launched post-abortion care guidelines to expand access for women and girls.

    The success of the Maputo Protocol in protecting and guaranteeing the rights of women and eliminating discrimination is quite remarkable. Where the rights of women and girls are violated, the Maputo Protocol has become an instrument for seeking legal redress and a tool for seeking accountability. It was referenced in these examples:

    • A court ruling in December 2020 found that the Kenya government violated several human rights instruments, including the Maputo Protocol, for failing to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual and gender-based violence that happened during the post-election violence of 2007. The government was ordered to pay compensation to four of the survivors, amounting to KSh 4 million (about US$40,000) each.
    • In December 2019, the ECOWAS Court of Justice found that the ban on pregnant schoolgirls going to school in Sierra Leone was discriminatory and in violation of girls’ right to education, in breach of Articles 2 and 12 of the Maputo Protocol. Since the ruling, the government of Sierra Leone has lifted the ban.
    • Article 13 and 17 of Tanzania’s Marriage Act, which set the minimum age of marriage for girls at 15 years and 18 years for boys, was challenged at the appeal court in 2019. Citing the Maputo Protocol, the court upheld the earlier ruling that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal.

    What have its shortcomings been?

    Progress in realising women’s and girls’ rights remains uneven within and between countries. Eleven countries haven’t ratified the protocol. Twenty-four haven’t fulfilled their reporting obligation to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Consequently, discriminatory laws persist. And customary, common and civil laws remain in parallel with constitutional provisions. This creates loopholes for the violation of women’s and girls’ rights.

    For example, 11 countries (Cameroon, Seychelles, Sudan, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Tanzania) permit girls below 18 years to marry. One member state has no minimum age for marriage. But legal reforms are happening in five of these countries.

    There’s been improvement in sexual and reproductive health outcomes. But sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage and female genital cutting remain high in most African countries. Maternal deaths and new HIV transmission have declined. But incidences remain relatively high in several countries.

    Young people, particularly girls, bear a disproportionate burden of poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes. This hinders their smooth transition into adulthood and affects their immediate and lifelong health (physical and mental) and socioeconomic wellbeing and empowerment.

    What more needs to be done?

    More advocacy is needed to ensure:

    • the remaining 11 countries ratify the protocol
    • countries with reservations about some of the articles in the protocol need to address them
    • those who have ratified it fully domesticate and implement its provisions.

    Such advocacy should be informed by contextually relevant evidence on sexual and reproductive health, including what works in addressing harmful practices, increasing young people’s access to information and services, and reducing new HIV infections and maternal deaths.

    The partnership between all actors working to ensure women’s health and reproductive rights are realised should be reinvigorated and sustained to make certain that gains are consolidated and not reversed.

    Entrenching a culture of equity around sexual and reproductive rights will also require tailored engagement with community and religious leaders to build their capacity on matters of sexual and reproductive health. Sustained funding of civil society organisations working to ensure women’s rights is also key, and so is the need to bolster the women’s movement on the continent.

    Juliet Kimotho, senior advocacy officer at the African Population and Health Research Center, contributed to this article. The Conversation

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Main photo by Dazzle Jam on Pexels

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Web immersif : et si nous ressentions Internet ?

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    Ahmed Azough, Professeur de Réalité Virtuelle et Vision par Ordinateur, Pôle Léonard de Vinci

     

    Si, aujourd’hui, nous sommes habitués à surfer sur Internet, partie émergée d’un énorme iceberg de données interconnectées, les évolutions technologiques récentes devraient bientôt nous permettre de nous immerger dans cet océan bouillonnant de big data.

    L’immersion vise à procurer à l’utilisateur un sentiment de présence en utilisant des technologies de captation et restitution sensorielle : l’utilisateur se sent transporté dans l’environnement digital créé par des technologies numériques, à tel point qu’il ressent ces objets numériques virtuels comme faisant partie de sa réalité.

    De leur côté, les systèmes numériques détectent et interprètent de mieux en mieux les comportements et les émotions de leurs interlocuteurs, à tel point que l’humain a l’impression que ce système est conscient de sa présence et interagit volontairement.

    Les films Matrix et plus récemment Ready Player One reflètent bien cette idée : s’interposer entre les récepteurs sensoriels de l’homme et la réalité afin de créer un monde nouveau, que l’on appelle parfois le « métaverse ». Ce concept est déjà utilisé depuis de plusieurs années pour les simulateurs d’aviation ou de conduite, ou pour des parcs de loisirs (L’Extraordinaire Voyage au Futuroscope par exemple).

    Le web immersif fait suite à trois générations du web : du web 1.0 statique qui ressemble à une « vitrine » d’affichage, au web 2.0 participatif qui intègre les utilisateurs dans la création du contenu, et au web 3.0 dit « sémantique », qui introduit de l’ingénierie de connaissance pour structurer les données.

    Cette quatrième génération, le « web 4.0 » ou « web immersif », doit être très accessible grâce aux réseaux haut débit 5G et à l’internet des objets (IoT). Le couplage du web et de la 5G nous fait entrer depuis le début des années 2020 dans l’ère d’un web « ambiant », pervasif et ubiquitaire, où de nombreux objets sont connectés et communiquent de manière autonome.

    Les technologies immersives de réalité virtuelle, augmentée ou mixte sont considérées par plusieurs acteurs comme la quatrième révolution du numérique (après les ordinateurs personnels, les ordinateurs portables et les smartphones). Elles devraient permettre une importante métamorphose de la pratique du Web, dont les fonctionnalités risquent d’évoluer plus ou moins rapidement selon le niveau d’adoption de la technologie, du dispositif utilisé, mais aussi selon l’évolution des réglementations relatives à la protection des données.

    À quoi ressemblera Internet avec le web immersif ?

    Les agents conversationnels virtuels (comme ChatGPT) répondent de manière naturelle et précise aux requêtes des utilisateurs. Dans le cadre d’un moteur de recherche, les requêtes n’ont plus besoin d’être constituées de mots clés, mais deviennent des discussions naturelles.

    Ce type de conversations plus naturelles pour les humains pourrait avoir d’autres applications : un prototype de thérapies de groupe dans le milieu scolaire a par exemple été testé par 134 étudiants à l’université National Tsing Hua University à Taiwan en 2021. Des systèmes similaires sont testés pour des entretiens d’embauche ou des assistants industriels.

    Les réponses des moteurs de recherche pourraient être des objets 3D virtuels transférés à l’utilisateur, ou des visites d’environnements virtuels. Les technologies immersives sont même considérées comme une technologie de rupture qui révolutionne la gestion et le marketing du tourisme.

    Par ailleurs, les réseaux sociaux, les chats et les forums sont en train d’être transformés en métavers (second life, Meta Horizon worlds). Les visioconférence peuvent évoluer en « holoportation » : un système développé en 2016 par Microsoft, qui permet de la reconstructions 3D de haute qualité et en temps réel d’un espace entier, y compris les personnes, les meubles et les objets qu’il contient, à l’aide d’un ensemble de nouvelles caméras de profondeur. Cette technologie a également été testée dans le domaine de l’éducation à travers quelques prototypes, et a permis de mettre en l’évidence le rôle important de la présence (et de la télé-présence) dans l’enseignement supérieur.

    Des casques de réalité mixte autonomes plus légers et plus puissants pourraient permettre l’adoption de cette technologie à grande échelle, avec par exemple le casque Meta Quest 3 présenté par Mark Zuckerberg le 1 Juin 2023.

    Côté santé, la chirurgie a connu de nombreuses avancées technologiques, depuis la première télé-chirurgie en 2001. Les chirurgiens peuvent de travailler à distance avec un écran tridimensionnel, via des jumelles haute définition – mais la latence moyenne, autour de 700 millisecondes, privilégie les usages d’entraînement et de planification. La première opération chirurgicale collaborative de l’épaule au monde à l’aide de la réalité mixte a été réalisée en 2017 à l’hopital Avicenne AP-HP en France. Le retour haptique permet la transmission des informations tactiles aux chirurgiens, ce qui permet de sentir la consistance du tissu et la tension dans les sutures.

    Aujourd’hui, plusieurs prototypes de soins médicaux faisant appel à des dispositifs haptiques et de capteurs corporels connectés permettent aussi d’envisager le diagnostic et les soins à distance. Récemment, la NASA a même envoyé virtuellement des médecins sur l’ISS pour aider les astronautes à rester en forme.

    L’e-commerce pourrait aussi bénéficier des technologies immersives : des caméras 3D et des capteurs connectés permettraient de transmettre les mensurations exactes des clients et d’essayer (virtuellement) leurs choix dans des chambres d’essayage virtuelles sans se déplacer.

    On envisage également que la navigation GPS devienne la navigation « VPS » (pour Visual positioning system) : avec des lunettes de navigation basée sur la réalité augmentée, ainsi que des retours sonores et haptiques, elle deviendrait plus intuitive. Un tel prototype ciblant les personnes âgées a été développé en 2018 à Telecom ParisTech en France.

    Enfin, et bien qu’elle soit à ses balbutiements, la recherche dans le domaine de la « saveur augmentée » vise à développer des dispositifs olfactifs pour sentir des parfums ou goûter des plats à distance.

    Que peut-on virtualiser ?

    Tous les sens font l’objet de récents progrès scientifiques et technologiques : la vision, le toucher, l’ouïe, l’odorat, le goût, mais aussi les sens du mouvement, de l’équilibre, de la chaleur par exemple. Dans ce sens, une interface olfactive souple, miniaturisée et sans fil a été ainsi développée pour la réalité virtuelle à l’université de Hong Kong en 2023.

    Dans la modalité visuelle, les dispositifs varient en niveau d’immersion : des écrans de smartphone peu immersifs, à des dispositifs semi-immersifs comme les écran incurvés et casques de réalités mixtes, jusqu’aux dispositifs immersifs comme les casques VR (virtual reality). Plus ces casques deviennent économiquement abordables, légers et autonomes, plus l’adoption de cette technologie augmente. La communauté anticipe que le casque de réalité mixte nouvelle génération Apple Vision Pro annoncé le 5 juin 2023 lors de l’Apple Worldwide Developers Conference constitue un pas majeur vers l’adoption de la technologie immersive par le grand public, comme l’a constitué l’iPhone 2G en 2007 pour l’adoption des smartphones.

    La modalité sonore accompagne souvent ses dispositifs d’immersion visuels à travers le son spatialisé 3D (le son stéréo traditionnel est diffusé en deux canaux seulement, gauche et droite). Le son spatialisé ajoute une dimension supplémentaire en introduisant des informations de localisation sonore verticales, horizontales et en profondeur. Cette technologie est aujourd’hui bien maîtrisée et largement utilisée dans le domaine des jeux vidéo.

    Pour le toucher, il existe des dispositifs dits « intrusifs » (car encombrants) comme les gants haptiques et les combinaisons corporelles ; et d’autres dispositifs moins invasifs ultra-minces ainsi que des peaux artificielles connectées sont en développement.

    D’autres dispositifs plus ludiques comme les bouches artificielles connectées ou des sex-toys connectés laissent présager du développement à venir de l’industrie « adulte » sur l’internet de demain.

    Les risques du web immersif

    Aujourd’hui, les technologies immersives posent déjà des défis éthiques importants, avec des risques potentiels pour la santé mentale, notamment le trouble de dépersonnalisation/déréalisation. Elles sont aussi sujettes à de sérieuses préoccupations liées à la négligence personnelle du corps (réel) des utilisateurs, et des environnements physiques réels. Elles peuvent également être utilisées pour enregistrer des données personnelles qui pourraient être déployées de manière à menacer la vie privée et à présenter un danger lié à la manipulation des croyances, des émotions et des comportements des utilisateurs.

    Ces défis se trouveront accentués avec le web immersif. Même si des initiatives existent pour encadrer éthiquement l’usage de la réalité virtuelle, l’aspect addictif du web et l’aspect intrusif de l’IoT posent de nouveaux défis et exigent plus d’effort pour la protection des usagers.

    L’insécurité, l’intrusion à la vie privée, l’isolement social, les crimes pornographiques, les délits virtuels, les maux de têtes, les blessures physiques ou l’addiction, tous ces dangers se verront accentués et devront attirer l’attention à la fois des designers et des représentants des usagers pour une utilisation plus sûre et plus éthique.The Conversation

    Cet article est republié à partir de The Conversation sous licence Creative Commons. Lire l’article original.

    Main photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Debunking migration myths: the real reasons people move, and why most migration happens in the global south – podcast

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    Avery Anapol, Commissioning Editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation Weekly Podcast

    Mend Mariwany, Producer, The Conversation Weekly, The Conversation Weekly Podcast

     

    Around the world, borders between countries are getting tougher. Governments are making it more difficult to move, especially for certain groups of vulnerable people. This comes with a message, subtle or not: that people are moving to higher-income countries to take advantage of the welfare system, or the jobs of people already living there.

    But evidence shows that much of what we think about migration – particularly those of us in Europe, North America and Australia – is wrong. Political narratives, often replicated in the media, shape the conversation and public attitudes toward migration.

    As the researchers we speak to in this episode of The Conversation Weekly tell us, these narratives are not the full picture. Our interviewees explain what migration really looks like around the world, what drives people to uproot their lives and move, and how some countries in Africa are welcoming refugees.

    Challenging the narrative

    Heaven Crawley, a researcher at UN University Centre for Policy Research based in New York, has been interested in migration since the late 1980s. Then, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia caused what was often referred to as a refugee “crisis” in Europe.

    Language like “crisis” has been a part of the discourse on migration for years. But Crawley thinks of this in a particular way: “It’s absolutely fair to say that there is a crisis associated with migration. It’s normally for the people who are actually moving, because they’re often in situations where there are huge inequalities in the right to move.”

    Crawley shared that migration, while “intrinsic to our economies and the way we function”, is not actually the norm. Most people don’t migrate, and those who do mostly move within their country of origin.

    She explained how, in Europe especially, perceptions of those who do migrate are often clouded by a narrative that people who move, legally, for work are “good” migrants. Conversely, people who move without visa permission or through clandestine means are viewed as “bad” migrants.

    In reality, people moving for any reason is usually a force for good for the country they move to and the people they encounter, Crawley suggested. “People are coming to realise that actually, migration can be very positive in terms of their day-to-day lives, who they mix with, who their family are married to.”

    When people decide to migrate, whether seeking economic opportunities or to escape violence or persecution, there are a number of factors influencing where they go. Valentina Di Iasio, a research fellow at the University of Southampton in the UK, has researched what makes people choose one country over another.

    Di Iasio and her colleague Jackie Wahba wanted to investigate the theory of the “welfare magnet”, that people choose to migrate to countries where the welfare state is more generous.

    But looking specifically at asylum seekers, they found that the strongest “pull factor” attracting people to particular countries is social networks. In other words, it’s not about the economy or welfare state, it’s about “having the possibility to rely on a community that is already there and already established”.

    Di Iasio also noted that many countries have policies preventing asylum seekers from working when they first arrive. But she said these policies often backfire, both for people arriving, and the host country’s overall economy: “If you ban asylum seekers from employment, this leads people … to become more dependent on public spending in the short term, and this is not good for anyone.”

    Migration in the global south

    It’s impossible to understand the global picture of migration if we only look at specific routes – for example, from India to the UK, or from Mexico to the US. According to Crawley, about one third of global migration happens within the global north (Europe, North America, Australia and parts of Asia), one third happens within the global south (South America, Africa and parts of Asia), and the remaining third is between the two.

    With that in mind, we spoke to Christopher Changwe Nshimbi, a researcher at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, about a region with frequent movement across borders. He studies the relationship between migration, development and regional integration (countries forming economic and trade relationships with each other) in Africa.

    Nshimbi said that more open borders are beneficial to regional integration in Africa. They allow people to move where their skills are needed, and to send remittances (money) back home to family, often within the same region.

    And yet, some countries are tightening their migration policies. Part of this, Nshimbi explained, is even influenced by attitudes in the global north. For example, development funding from the European Union is often tied to efforts to curb migration from Africa to the EU. Nshimbi said that when migrants are seen as a threat to high-income European countries: “The tendency seems to be to try and influence the movement … of Africans within the African continent.”

    But he said this approach is misguided, and that funding development in low-income countries “doesn’t necessarily translate into people stopping migrating”. In some cases, this funding to stop migration has been used in a way that causes instability and violence – and ultimately, more migration.

    Looking toward the future

    Nshimbi is now researching how the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather patterns, are leading people to migrate. While this will present challenges for governments, Nshimbi said the history of migration on the continent gives him reason to be optimistic.

    He said he wonders why European countries talk about refugee “crises” when countries in Africa regularly host many more refugees. Citing the example of Uganda, he said: “There are shining examples on the continent of countries that, though poor, host large numbers of refugees.”

    Again referencing Uganda, Nshimbi said that some countries are used to hosting refugees, providing them with land and resources so they can participate in local economies until they move elsewhere: “A poor country, but they take care of them.”

    Listen to the full episode of The Conversation Weekly to learn more about migration around the world, what factors drive people to move, and what some countries in Africa are doing to welcome refugees.

    This episode was written and produced by Avery Anapol and Mend Mariwany, who is also the executive producer of The Conversation Weekly. Eloise Stevens does our sound design, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

    The Conversation

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).

    Central Bank Digital Currencies: A potential solution for reducing transactions costs in Africa and increasing trade

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    Paul R BakerFounder and Chairman, International Economics Consulting Ltd (IEC)

    Taahirah Zahraa Boodhoo Beeharry, Policy Researcher, International Economics Consulting Ltd (IEC)

    Loan Thi Hong Le, Managing Director of International Economics (Vietnam office)

     

    Why the interest in CBDCs in Africa?

    With the rapid proliferation of cryptocurrencies and the emergence of new digital currencies, national governments are increasing efforts to provide more stable and regulated alternatives to private sector-driven initiatives. Central bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) have garnered considerable interest amongst many governments worldwide, having been implemented by several developing countries and piloted in many others, including the European Union (EU), the US, and several African countries [1]. Nearly a dozen countries across the continent are considering their options concerning implementing CBDCs.

    Figure 1 Central Bank Digital Currencies Status across Africa, Source: IMF based on (cbdctracker.org -updated March 2023)

    There are widespread benefits from the implementation and use of CBDCs. In the African context, one of the most significant achievements of CBDCs would be to lower the costs of transactions within the region. CBDCs can reduce transaction fees and merchant fees. Moreover, by lowering the costs of cross-border transactions, CBDCs are expected to encourage further trade between African countries and contribute to expanding regional value chains.

    What are CBDCs?

    In essence, CBDCs are the digital version of traditional fiat money. They are issued, regulated, and backed by central banks. Unlike cryptocurrencies and stablecoins, where there is almost no government oversight, CBDCs are centralised and operate within the regulatory framework of a government’s financial system. Therefore, they are more stable and secure than cryptocurrencies and stablecoins. There is a wide range of possibilities for governments to design their CBDC system. Examples include an account-based model where customers open deposit accounts with the central ­­bank or private sector models where private institutions continue to act as intermediaries between the central bank and consumers (see Figure 2).  Although the existing use of cryptocurrencies across the continent may represent some form of competition for CBDCs, the two currencies are fundamentally different in their design, purpose, and underlying technology. While CBDCs are designed to work within existing financial systems, cryptocurrencies are designed to operate independently of them. Nonetheless, they are likely to coexist as separate forms of digital currency.

    Figure 2 CBDC Design Options, Source: BIS (2022)

    CBDCs can ease transaction costs and shorten transaction times

    One of the key benefits of CBDCs is their potential to reduce transaction costs in Africa. At present, the cost of cross-border payments in Africa is significantly higher than the global average. As per estimations of the World Bank in September 2022, transaction fees represent 8.5% of the total value of remittances to African countries. In contrast, the transaction fee for global transactions amounts to only 6.5%, with South Asia having the lowest costs at 4.9%. The high costs of transferring money to and within African countries are driven by numerous factors, including the fragmented payment systems, poor governance and risk management among service providers, legal and regulatory barriers as well as a lack of competition in the payment ecosystem. African payment systems rely heavily on the correspondent banking system located outside the continent, which further adds to the cost. According to SWIFT (2018), North America remain the main clearing route for African financial flows. More than 80% of the transactions sent from Africa to the United States have their final beneficiary in another region, including 19.5% of which returns to Africa. In the past year, many different mobile money platforms have emerged in Africa. While this improves competition and creates a bustling digital payment ecosystem, it nonetheless complicates and lengthens the process of connecting different service providers, especially when the latter operates under different standards.

    Figure 3 Average costs of sending remittances by region in September 2022, Source: World Bank (2022)
    Figure 4 Average costs of sending remittances by region divided by cash and digital services in September 2022, Source: World Bank (2022)

    The payment ecosystem in Africa, dominated by numerous traditional commercial banks and inadequate infrastructure, is a hurdle to conducting business. In a survey conducted among 1,300 businesses in Africa, the conventional banking system was portrayed as having numerous deficiencies, including high costs, low speed, and unreliability. 32.1% of the businesses surveyed indicated that business-to-business payment methods were too expensive. Furthermore, while 41.2% of businesses report a day’s waiting time for payments to be credited to their accounts, many businesses reported having to wait for a week (39.5%).

    By providing a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to transferring money, CBDCs could significantly reduce the cost of sending remittances, B2B transactions, and cross-border trade. The costs and time associated with cross-border payments are reduced by eliminating the need for intermediaries such as commercial banks or payment processors. CBDCs allow transactions to be carried out and reflected within seconds. Moreover, since CBDCs are backed by the Central Bank, these would instil greater confidence among traders and mitigate concerns over liquidity, credit risk and foreign exchange settlement risks that currently hinder cross-border payments.

    CBDCs can improve intra-regional trade

    CBDCs will allow greater scope for businesses, especially small enterprises, to trade across borders, thus boosting intra-African trade. With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) coming into operation, CBDCs can further lower business costs between African countries. In light of the benefits of CBDCs, certain regional economic communities, such as the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) are considering developing a common digital currency. In the case of CEMAC, its digital currency is intended to be used across all six of its Member States, namely Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Moreover, CBDCs can also reduce dependence on the US Dollar as a common currency for trade. As certain African countries struggle to participate in international trade due to foreign exchange reserves, CBDCs provide an alternative, allowing countries to trade in their local currencies. For instance, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are pursuing the possibility of a joint-digital currency, Project Aber, for use within and between the two countries. Thus, by facilitating cross-border trade, CBDCs offer an important avenue for increasing intra-African trade and deepening regional integration.

    In addition to these benefits, it is also worth noting that CBDCs could potentially increase financial inclusion (and in some cases for the informal sector to integrate into the formal sector) and overhaul current payment systems. With greater uptake of CBDCs by the informal sector, CBDCs could shed light on the sizeable share of transactions that take place within the informal economy and could be reflected in the national figures. Hence, CBDCs can also significantly ameliorate financial regulation and monetary policy through evidenced-based policymaking enabled by enhanced data.

    Disintermediation of private banking and other challenges

    However, the introduction of CBDCs is not without its challenges. One important concern arising from CBDCs relates to the potential transition from commercial banking. This relates to accounts-based models. With commercial transactions being undertaken through CBDCs, individuals and businesses may reduce deposits in commercial banks, increasing the volatility of deposits. Given that customer deposits are increasingly important for commercial banking services, CBDCs may threaten banks’ profitability.

    Specific CBDC platforms have also absorbed some of the services private-sector financial institutions offer, such as e-transfers, mobile money, or digital wallets. Nigeria’s e-Naira, for instance, allows for a range of services that were once under the purview of private banks, namely diaspora payment, transfer of government aid to citizens, contactless payment, peer-to-peer payment, foreign exchange transactions, or renewal of television subscriptions and purchase airtime, among others. In order to mitigate such risks arising from their disintermediation, commercial banks may adopt a range of measures, including reduced lending, higher costs of credit, and higher costs of ancillary services. These, in turn, could significantly impact small businesses, especially when 72% of MSMEs in Sub-Saharan Africa and 80% of MSMEs in the Middle East and North Africa experience some financing gap. On the flip side, with the potential disruption to traditional banking models, commercial banks may be encouraged to explore new business models and innovate so as to retain competitiveness.

    Cybersecurity threats and data protection are imminent risks that governments need to consider. If any vulnerabilities in the infrastructure and system are taken advantage of, these could potentially jeopardise an entire country’s financial system. In early 2022, DCash, a CBDC introduced in the Eastern Caribbean, hit technical glitches that forced the system offline for weeks. Thus, any CBDC being designed by national governments needs to be done in light of the challenges and threats that could potentially arise. Nonetheless, the cybersecurity risks associated with CBDCs can foster a payment landscape characterised by greater security and trust in transactions with the development of robust security frameworks and the adoption of best practices.

    Moreover, CBDCs also pose concerns regarding the anonymity of transactions. The anonymity of transactions is an essential feature of cash which enables individuals and businesses to conduct transactions while their identities and personal information remain protected. Nonetheless, it is important to ensure that the payment landscape is also secure and transparent. The implementation of CBDCs also requires the design of robust legal and regulatory frameworks that effectively balance the need for privacy and confidentiality and risks against fraudulent activities, especially as it relates to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulation.

    Considerations for the Mauritian Government

    CBDCs have the potential to revolutionise the global payment landscape. In the African context, CBDCs could hold potential solutions for increasing intra-regional trade, especially by facilitating transactions and reducing transaction costs. Mauritius, as the gateway to Africa, is in a unique position to take advantage of the opportunities brought about by the nexus of continental free trade and technological advances in payment systems. As the Mauritian Government explores the possibility of introducing CBDCs in the domestic payment landscape, it will need to weigh the potential benefits and consider the necessary reforms and upgrades required in infrastructure and technology, as well as the current regulations. Moreover, the critical role that private banking and financial institutions play in the domestic financial ecosystem must be considered and ensure consistent engagement with such stakeholders to assess the modalities for deploying CBDCs and the role that these institutions will play in a new payment ecosystem. The seamless integration of CBDCs in payment systems that ensure interoperability with existing payment infrastructure will facilitate the update of the digital currency and provide convenience to users. Citizens’ uptake of a digital currency would also require outreach and sensitisation activities to build confidence in converting to the new currency. Moreover, the Bank of Mauritius should consider the lessons learned from regions that have already launched CBDCs or are conducting pilot programmes.

    [1] Nigeria was the first African nation to launch a CBDC, the e-naira, making it the second CBDC to have been officially launched worldwide.

    Main photo by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash

    Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).